WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress should commit funds to reinvigorate U.S. agencies slashed after the Cold War that were responsible for international development, diplomacy and promoting good governance, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday.
The U.S. military, overstretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has borne the responsibility for nation-building, he said.
“As much as the armed forces must be prepared to take on these tasks, the fact remains that much of the necessary expertise belongs in other parts of our government,” Gates said.
“The goal for us must be an integrated effort, a reinvigoration of all elements of national power,” he said at the Marine Corps Association annual dinner in Virginia. “It will require a serious commitment of resources and priorities from the Congress and the country.”
Military and defense officials often criticize what they say is a weak contribution from other U.S. government agencies to rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The State Department is often targeted by defense officials, who argue that the mentoring U.S. troops provide to Afghan and Iraqi officials is actually the responsibility of diplomats.
The Pentagon chief, without citing specific agencies, said there were only about 200 U.S. government civilian employees working in reconstruction teams in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That has followed more than a decade of resource cuts for non-military agencies, like the U.S. Information Agency and the Agency for International Development, Gates said.
“The non-military instruments of America’s national power need to be rebuilt, modernized and committed to the fight,” he said.
Gates also spoke about the U.S. service members who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. The secretary, who handwrites personal notes to the families of all service members killed in the wars, struggled through the end of his speech as he talked about a Marine who asked to be sent back to Iraq and died there.
“For you, and for me, they are not names on a press release, or numbers updated on a Web page,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “They are our country’s sons and daughters.”
More than 1.5 million U.S. troops have served in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. More than 4,000 have been killed in those war zones.
Tens of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilians have died amid the combat.